Authors: Charlie Higson
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General
He pushed the table out of the way and crept forward. What if Mr Hewitt sped up, though? What if all the diseased adults weren’t slow and confused? It was easy to make a mistake. Every boy who’d been taken had made some stupid mistake. Had been careless.
Ed raised the bat just as Hewitt flopped on to the floor. For a moment he lay there, unmoving. Ed wondered if he was dead. Then the teacher rolled his head from side to side and forced himself up so that he was squatting on the sticky carpet. He belched and vomited a stream of thin clear liquid down his front. It smelt awful.
‘Hit him, Ed.’
Ed glanced over at Jack. He was stooped over, breathing heavily, his eyes wild and shining. Exhausted. The strawberry birthmark that covered one side of his face and gave him a permanently angry look was like a splash of blood.
‘Hit him now.’
When Ed turned his attention back to Mr Hewitt, the teacher had straightened up and was shuffling closer. There were three long jagged tears down the front of his white shirt. Ed’s eyes flicked to the window frame where a row of vicious glass shards stuck up along the lower rim. Mr Hewitt must have raked his torso across them as he crawled in, too stupid to realize what was happening. Blood was oozing from behind the rips and soaking his shirt. His tie had been pulled into a tight, stringy knot.
There was a noise from outside. Already other shapes were at the window, jostling with each other to get through.
Hewitt suddenly jerked and lashed out with one hand. Ed staggered back.
‘Hit him, Ed,’ Jack hissed angrily, on the verge of crying. ‘Smash his bloody skull in. Kill him. I hate him. I hate him.’
The thing was, Ed hadn’t hit a single one of them yet and he didn’t know if he could. He didn’t know if he could swing that bat and feel it smash into bone and flesh. He’d never enjoyed fighting, had always managed to avoid anything serious. The fact that most people seemed to like him and wanted to be his mate had kept him out of trouble. He’d grown up thinking it was wrong to hit someone else, to deliberately hurt another person.
And not just any person. It was Mr Hewitt, who until about two weeks ago had been friendly and normal …
. How Ed longed for things to be normal again.
Well, they weren’t ever going to be normal again, were they? So swing that bloody bat. Feel the bone break under it
He swung. His heart wasn’t in it, though, and there was no force to the blow. The bat bumped feebly into Mr Hewitt’s arm, knocking him to the side. Hewitt snarled and lunged at Ed who cried out in alarm and jumped backwards. One of the table legs poked him in the back, winding him and knocking him off balance. He fell awkwardly, his head bashing against the table. He lay there for a moment in stunned confusion until a shout from Jack brought him back to his senses.
Where was the bat? He’d dropped the bat. Where was it?
It had fallen towards Mr Hewitt who had stepped over it. Ed couldn’t get to it now and neither could Jack. Not without shoving Hewitt out of the way.
And Hewitt was nearly on him. There was just enough light to see the pus-filled boils that were spread across his face. He raised both his hands to chest height, ready to make a grab for Ed, and his shirt pulled out of his trousers.
‘Help me, Jack!’
But before Jack could do anything there was a bubbling, gurgling sound, like a clogged-up sink unblocking, and an appalling stink filled the room. Mr Hewitt howled. The glass had evidently cut deeper into his belly than any of them had realized. He looked down dumbly as his skin unzipped and his guts spilt out.
Now it was Jack’s turn to vomit.
Mr Hewitt dropped to his knees and started scooping up long coils of entrails, as if he was trying to stuff them back into his body. Jack moved at last. He kicked Hewitt over, grabbed the fallen bat then ran to Ed.
‘Come on,’ he said, seizing Ed’s wrist and pulling him to his feet. ‘We’re getting out of here.’
They bundled out into the corridor and Jack pulled the door shut.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Ed. ‘I can’t do this.’
‘It’s all right,’ said Jack, and he hugged Ed. ‘It’s all right, mate, it’s all right.’
Jack felt weird; it had always been the other way round. Ed helping Jack, Ed cool and in control, gently mocking Jack, who worried about everything. Jack never sure of himself, self-conscious about his birthmark. Not that Ed would ever say anything about it, but it was always there, like a flag. What did it matter now, though? In a list of all the things that sucked in the world his stupid birthmark wasn’t even in the top one hundred.
‘Should we try and block the door somehow?’ said Ed, making an attempt to look like he was in control again.
‘What with?’ said Jack. ‘Let’s just get back upstairs to the others, yeah?’
‘What about the teachers?’ said Ed, looking fearfully at the door.
‘There’s nothing we can do, Ed. Maybe the rest of them will be distracted by Mr Hewitt. I don’t know. Maybe they’ll stop to eat him. That’s all they’re looking for, isn’t it, food? You’ve seen them.’
Ed let out a mad laugh. ‘Listen to you,’ he said. ‘Listen to what you’re saying, Jack. This is nuts. Talking about people eating each other. It’s unreal.’
seen them. A pack of teachers ripping a dead body to pieces and shoving the bloody parts into their mouths.
. He had to try not to think about these things and concentrate on the moment. On staying alive from one second to the next.
‘All right,’ he said, his voice more steady now. ‘Let’s get back to the others. Make sure they’re all OK. We’ve got to stick together.’
Ed took hold of Jack’s arm.
‘Promise me, Jack, won’t you?’
‘That whatever happens we’ll stick together.’
‘Let’s go,’ said Jack, dragging his torch from his pocket and shining it up and down the corridor. There were heavy fire doors at either end that the kids kept shut to slow down any intruders. This part of the corridor was empty. They had to keep moving, though. They had no idea how long the other teachers would be delayed in the common room.
Ed suddenly felt more tired than he’d ever felt in his life. He wasn’t sure he had the energy just to put one foot in front of the other. He knew Jack felt the same.
Then one of the fire doors banged open and Ed was running again.
A teacher had lurched through. Monsieur Morel, from the French department. He’d always been a big, jolly man, with dark, wavy hair and an untidy beard; now he looked like some sort of mad bear, made worse by the fact that he seemed to have found a woman’s fur coat somewhere. It was way too small for him and matted with dried blood. He advanced stiff-legged down the corridor towards the boys, arms windmilling.
The boys didn’t wait for him; they flung themselves into the fire door at the opposite end but as they crashed through they collided with another teacher on the other side. He staggered back against the wall. Without thinking, Jack lashed out with the bat, getting him with a backhander to the side of the head that left him stunned.
Jack and Ed came to a dead stop. This part of the corridor was thick with teachers. God knows how many of them there were, or how they’d got in. Even though they were packed in here, there was an eerie silence, broken only by a cough and a noise like someone trying to clear their throat.
Ed flashed his torch wildly around, and almost as one the teachers turned towards him. The beam whipped across a range of twisted, diseased faces, dripping with snot, teeth bared, eyes staring, with peeling skin, open wounds and horrible grey-green blisters.
They were unarmed and weakened by the sickness, but they were still larger and on the whole more powerful than the boys, and in a big group like this they were deadly. The boys had fortified one of the dormitories on the top floor where they were living, but there was no way Jack and Ed could make it to the stairs past this lot.
They couldn’t go back and try another way, though, because Monsieur Morel was even now pushing through the fire door, and behind him was a small group of female teachers.
There was a loud shout and Ed was dimly aware of bodies being knocked down, then Morel was shunted aside as a group of boys charged him from behind. At their head was Harry ‘Bam’ Bamford, champion prop forward for the school, and bunched next to him in a pack were four of his friends from the rugby team, armed with hockey sticks. They yelled at Jack and Ed to follow them and cleared a path between the startled teachers who dropped back to either side. The seven boys had the muscle now to power down the corridor and into the empty entrance hallway at the end. They kept moving, Ed running up the stairs three steps at a time, all tiredness forgotten.
They soon reached the top floor and hammered on the dormitory door.
‘Open up! It’s us!’ Bam yelled. Below them the teachers were starting to make their way on to the stairs.
There were muffled voices from the dorm and sounds of activity.
‘Come on,’ Jack shouted. ‘Hurry up.’
Monsieur Morel was coming up more quickly than the other adults, his big feet crashing into each step as his long, muscular legs worked like pistons, eating up the distance.
At last the boys could hear the barricade being removed from the other side of the door. They knew how long it took, though, to move the heavy wardrobe to the side, shunting it across the bare wooden floorboards.
There had to be a better system than this.
Jack turned. Morel was nearly up.
‘Get a move on.’ Ed pounded his fists on the door, which finally opened a crack. The boy on the other side put an eye to the gap, checking to see who was out there.
‘Just open the bloody door,’ Bam roared.
Morel reached the top of the staircase and Jack kicked him hard in the chest with the heel of his shoe. The big man fell backwards with a small, high-pitched cry, toppling down the stairs and taking out a group of teachers on the lower steps.
The door swung inwards. The seven boys made it through to safety.
The adults were scraping the dormitory wall with their fingers and battering at the door. Now and then there would be a break, a few seconds’ silence, and the boys would hear one of them sniffing at the crack down the side of the door like a dog. Then the mindless frenzy of banging and scratching would begin all over again.
‘Do you think they’ll give up and go away?’ Johnno, one of the rugby players, was standing by the heavy wardrobe that the boys used to barricade the door. He was staring at it, as if trying to look through it at the adults on the other side.
‘What do you reckon?’ said Jack, with more than a hint of scorn in his voice.
‘Exactly. So why ask such a stupid question?’
‘Hey, hey, hey, no need to start getting at each other,’ said Bam, stepping over to put an arm round his friend’s shoulder. ‘Johnno was just thinking out loud, weren’t you, J? Just saying what we’re all thinking.’
‘Yeah, I know, I’m sorry,’ said Jack, slumping down on to a bed and running his fingers through his hair. ‘I’m all weird inside. Can’t get my head straight.’
‘It’s the adrenalin,’ came a high-pitched, squeaky voice from the other side of the room. ‘The fight or flight chemical.’
‘What are you on about now, Wiki?’ said Bam, with a look of amusement on his broad, flat face. Wiki’s real name was Thomas. He was a skinny little twelve-year-old with glasses who seemed to know everything about everything and had been nicknamed Wiki, short for Wikipedia.
‘Adrenalin, although you should properly call it epinephrine,’ he said in his strong Manchester accent. ‘It’s a hormone your body makes when you’re in danger. It makes your heart beat faster and your blood vessels sort of open up so that you’re ready to either fight off the danger or run away from it. You get a big burst of energy, but afterwards you can feel quite run down. It’s made by your adrenal glands from tyrosine and phenylalanine, which are amino acids.’